Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Thing 2012 - Review: The Rocket Man from the Sea by Janos Honkonen

SpringThing 2012 is up and running and who knows who, someone must have given me the right to judge the entrants.

Some forewords.

First, be patient with my english. I will no doubt judge the games for the eventual lack of polish and typos etc. Knowing how much my literary merits ghost in plain daylight, one would think "who dares?"
It is exactly my thought.

Second: the rating for the games will be overall and not specific to any degree. I'm not the dissectionist of IF and all I am able to do is tell if a game is worthy or unworthy of some playthroughs. The votes will range between Giant Red (meaning: wow!) and Cyanotic (meaning: wow...). You can read them as a numeric value that goes from 5 to 1. Or 4 to 0. Or whatever: it's not like they will write a book about my ratings.

Last: I judge the games according to my opinion and mine only. If you dissent, feel free to comment here or find a place where to start the conversation. I'm sure it will be funny.

Now on with Game One: The Rocket Man from the Sea, by Janos Honkonen

Just be warned:


Avoiding spoilers in this game is impossible.
It is so straightforwardly impossible that I spoiled my own run just by looking at the help menu.

So: if you did not play it, stop reading now. The game has many merits and you will eventually cancel the biggest one. Also: don't read the help menu. I am serious.

Let's start.

The Rocket Man is a very beautiful game. The setting is fascinating and the PC is simply wonderful. I have found some minor typos here and there but nothing especially annoying. On the overall, the level of polish is quite high.

The story: You, a 6 years old boy, are left in charge of the island where you live with you parents alone. They are going to Astro City One, the big space town in the mainland, for some untold work. You look around and a universe of possibility arises. And that's when the things start getting interesting.
Strolling through the island with the faithful friend Gogol, your dog, all you have to do is take inventory of your belongings... until the feared Martians attack.

The surroundings change and you abruptly find yourself in the middle of a strike on Mars, a marine of sorts trying to get back home after kicking martians' arses for good. With you, your warhound, the fierce robot Gog01.
It takes but a few turns to understand the (very clever) gimmick. Gog01 is just the 1337 for Gogol and all the martian land is nothing but a fantasy-driven metamorphoses of your own house. Infact, you didn't swap pov with a soldier but became one, at least in your own mind.

The first act is all about rediscovering your own isle, and blowing up an enemy bunker. Done that, the real story begins unravelling.

The novel in the game is a miracle of exposure. First, after you get acquaintance with your own backyard, it is enormously satisfying understanding how the child mind transformed it into his martian playground. Pine cones that become grenades, working suits that transform into armors and a simple ladder that becomes an elevator to the sky. It really got me as it drove me back to the years when I and a friend of mine played space adventures using a chute and a swing as a starship and a deploy probe. Every aspect is believable to the point I fear Janos Honkonen is just a pseudonym for my old friend.
Second: the kind of "game" you let yourself into is right the kind of game I would have played if I was the PC. Impressive.

That could have been enough, if not... for the fact that this is just the beginning of your adventures.

Act 2 is more linear and easy (although a red herring big like a house could have been better implemented: I'm talking about the vines floating on the sea) thus faster and story driven. The puzzles drop to zero (almost) and all you have to do is get in catch with what the author wanted you to experience.
This second part I'm not going to discuss, as all the story revolves around it. Let me just say that the juxtaposition of the beliefs and gaming sequences from act 1 with "what happens next" is in my humble opinion a masterstroke.


As I said, the setting is really fantastic. 
At the very beginning I feared Rocket Man was "another pirate story". The game proved me wrong in just a few turns. The world is interesting and well described, although a little bit underdeveloped. Astro City One is but a line of text in its description and, although I understand everything is seen through the eyes of a 6yo who never left the island, some detail more I would have loved. 
The map is brilliantly managed, with sections that come into play just when needed and it is easily sailable with no aid. The unexplored exits signaled in the status bar make me feel sick for what I did with my own map in recent Competitions. I loved how you can't (or won't) enter the house while act 1 is running and how seamlessly the same is available in the last part. Also, how the martian base is depicted and how every single object has a copycat on red ground.

The three main characters of Rocket Man are thick and interesting. The PC is lovable (reminds me, dunno why, of Flash from the movie The Incredibles), the dog -- although there for just one single task -- is cute and living, and the third actor, the Rocket Man from the Sea actually, is creepy and sad in a way I can't easily describe.

The puzzles are all solvable but none are trivial. The difficulty ramp is perfect, so you can smoothly get accustomed to the environment while solving the easier ones and then go bang your head (a bit) on the hardest. A few objects to manage and all serve a scope in a way or another.

The story... well, the story is the reason why I'm giving this game the topscore. Again, I won't spoil it, but prepare to be heavily surprised by how things unravel in the end. It is heartening and at the same time shocking, although this last belief I made up in retrospect. Having understood how it goes, before the game actually told me, spoiled the fun. But didn't change my mind about it, at least. There is a strong morale behind Rocket Man and it is delivered at the right pace, with no additional, pointless detail, and with a singular yet stright-to-the-point style.

I won't forget this game. And I won't forget the guy in the Rocket Man suit.

Giant Red Small White • Orange Glowing • Azure • Cyanotic


  1. Hello! Thank you for a great review. I had this notion of the kind of kick I'd like for someone to have when playing the game, and if there was one person out there who got it, the whole job was really worth the while for me. It seems I got my wish, thank you :)

    Have a great spring!

    1. You are welcome.

      Consider, though, that I had it in retrospect, meaning I knew about the main point of the game before getting there... So I may be suffering of the missing hand disease (you know: when you feel your fingers itch even if they aren't there anymore...).

      Anyway, good job!